frozen dead guy days

Posted on March 5th, 2012 by mountain girl  |  Comments Off on frozen dead guy days

Imagine if you lived in a town whose most famous resident was a frozen dead guy. Yup, that’s us.

This weekend in Nederland was Frozen Dead Guy Days. The festival is a little morbid for my liking, and not so family-oriented, especially if you have little kids. Besides finding our tiny town in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the store parking lots roped off into $20 all-day parking, and orange-vested traffic cops everywhere, I did a little research on what the fervor is all about. The history behind it is really pretty interesting. Here’s the scoop.

It ‘s a beautiful day in early March. You are driving through the mountains of Colorado in hopes of catching some late-winter skiing. You round an ice-covered lake, and a sign appears. “Nederland Welcomes You. Elevation 8236, Population 1502.”

You pass the post office and drive into town, looking for a place to grab a bite to eat. Suddenly you slam on your brakes. A crowd runs in front of you. It looks something like a race, but what are they carrying? Are those coffins?

Yes, they are coffins (with live people inside them), and over there is a parade of skeletons, and a whole line of  hearses is joining in. In the center of the town roundabout is a strange looking snow sculpture that resembles a skull wearing a ski mask. You are at Frozen Dead Guy Days.

Whoa! What kind of place is this? Is there really a frozen dead guy? Are these townspeople for real?

Well, yes and no. The festival is a bit of a joke with its coffin races, a frozen dead guy look-alike contest, and even a special blue ice cream with sour gummy worms made for the event. But believe it or not, there actually is a frozen dead guy.

Bredo Morstoel was a Norwegian citizen who died in 1989 while on a skiing trip with his family. However, his grandson, Trygve Bauge (pronounced trig-vee bodge) wasn’t about to put Grandpa in the ground.

Trygve had quite a few ideas that went against the flow of mainstream society, and his grandfather’s death was just the ticket to turn one of those views, cryonics, into action.

Cryonics (from the Greek kryosicy cold) is the science of placing very recently dead humans and animals into a low-temperature environment to preserve them in hopes of bringing them back to life at some point in the future. (Of course, modern medicine would need to take some big steps before that could happen.)

Trygve packed his grandfather on dry ice and headed to California, along with his mother, Aud, who was Bredo Morstoel’s daughter. Their destination was a cryonics facility in Los Angeles. At the facility, Grandpa Bredo was preserved in liquid nitrogen, and there he stayed for a few years. Trygve, however, had a bigger plan,and once again he and Aud packed Grandpa on dry ice and headed out of town, this time to Colorado.

Nederland was a Scandinavian-settled town (hence the name, from Netherlands), and the climate, snow, and ice were much like Trygve and Aud’s homeland of Norway. Since cryonics was an illegal practice in Norway (and in all of Europe), Nederland seemed like the perfect place for Tryg and Aud to open a cryonics lab of their own.

They bought a piece of land and began building a bomb-proof, earthquake-proof, and fire-proof house with lots of room for storing cryonically kept bodies.

Grandpa, in the meantime, was kept frozen in an old garden shed behind the house. By now he had been joined by yet another frozen dead guy – Al Campbell. Al’s family was paying Trygve and Aud to keep him cryonically preserved, and it seemed their business was off to a running start.

Things didn’t quite go as planned, however. Trygve was kicked out of the country for overstaying his visa, and Aud was evicted from their half-finished house for violating city code (living without proper plumbing and electricity).

When Aud realized she was being forced out of town, she spilled the beans about the cryonically stored bodies, saying she was afraid they would thaw out in her and Trygve’s absence.

The town was in an uproar!

Everyone was talking. It was downright spooky to have frozen bodies in your neighborhood. Who knew, maybe those bodies would eventually contaminate the drinking water.

Al’s family, a bit taken aback with the publicity, took Al home and buried him. The town then passed an emergency ordinance saying it was illegal to store a whole frozen body in town. By now, though, the folks were getting a bit fond of their resident. Bredo Morstoel had been there before the ordinance. Couldn’t he be “grandfathered” in?

It seems a bit ironic that Grandpa Bredo was the only family member who was allowed to continue to reside in Nederland. Morstoel was allowed to stay where he was – in the shack behind the house.

For an old frozen dead guy, Grandpa Bredo did pretty well. Soon after all the publicity, the local Tuff Shed suppliers donated a shed, now called the Tuff Shed Cryogenic Mausoleum.

For $35, during the festival you can now go on a tour up around the lake to the Tuff shed, where Grandpa still lives–er, resides. Every month for nearly 20 years, Bo Shaffer, nicknamed “the Iceman”, has been driving 1600 lbs of dry ice up to Nederland to pack around the body, keeping it at 60 degrees below zero.

One of Trygve Bauge’s other strange ideas was the polar plunge. He believed that jumping into icy water would help preserve him from aging before he died, and so he would routinely do icy plunges. The “polar plunge” is now part of the festival as well. For $20, you can line up with other folks scantily clad in wild costumes and leap into freezing water. Fun, huh?

There are two movies about Bredo Morstoel that are shown throughout Frozen Dead Guy Days: Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed (1998) and Grandpa’s Still in the Tuff Shed (2003). They tell the story of the frozen dead guy and how the festival got its start.

Frozen Dead Guy Days is our town’s claim to fame…and it’s all about a resident who never even lived here.

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